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The architecture of Oakland: The Sanford Building

on January 11, 2013

Many of the reporters at Oakland North are new to the Bay Area, and one of the first things we noticed while touring the city was its beautiful and sometimes unusual architecture. On the reporting team for this series, one of us is from Brazil and one is from Southern California. We decided it would be great to learn more about some of the structures that represent Oakland’s beautiful landscape.

With a great deal of assistance from the representatives at the Oakland Library History Room, Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey and Oakland Heritage Alliance, we were able look at a wide array of old city maps, photographs and drawings to learn more about how Oakland’s most notable buildings once appeared. You can scroll the photo at the top of the screen from left to right to toggle between the older photo of the building and the one from today.

For the next six weeks we will showcase some of the buildings we liked the most—both as they used to look, and what each is like today. Some are more familiar to Oakland residents than others. Each has helped enhance the city’s reputation and some are considered the “crown jewels of Oakland.”

The Sanford Building is a two-story rectangular brick building with a canted corner, on a corner lot located at 801 Broadway in the Old Oakland neighborhood. It is currently a coffee shop but it was used for many local businesses, including a law office, space for the city’s water district headquarters and an office for the Alameda County commissioners. The businesses were usually located on the first floor in order to attract those who passed the big picture windows as they left the train station.

The roof entablature structure—or horizontal bands above the columns—is wood with scrolled ornamental brackets called modillions. Below the modillions is a string of dentils, small blocks used as a repeating decoration on the structure. The area below the roof has decorative brackets, and directly underneath them there are smaller pieces of wood that are placed a few inches apart around the entire building.

Pharmacist Edmond P. Sanford constructed the Sanford Building, a commercial structure (not to be confused with the Camron-Stanford House, another historical landmark in Oakland), in 1865. It was one of seven buildings constructed above 7th Street after the completion of the 7th Street railroad in 1863. In 1868, the building was shattered during an earthquake—the rear walls cracked and one iron pillar in front was knocked out of place.

Throughout its history, the building has had several owners and a variety of tenants. Before the earthquake, the City of Paris dry goods store was in the building until 1869. In 1880, Dr. LaFevre, a popular dentist in the community, was murdered in the building, and in 1899 Contra Costa Water Company replaced a previous tenant, the Oakland Water Company. Other tenants have included the law offices of George Babcock, a clothing store, and a boot and shoe shop.

This building was included in the of the City of Oakland’s Victorian Row restoration project that took place during the 1970s and 1980s. Now a Starbucks Coffee sign is displayed prominently in the window of the space on the first floor as the building continues its current life as a café.

Music used in the audio portion of this article is by Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons by Attribution 3.0


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Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to:

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